Missouri Suit Claims Firefighter’s Termination Was Due To Union Organizing Activities

A Missouri fire protection district and its fire chief are facing a suit that claims they terminated a firefighter because she was trying to organize a union.

Amber Rounseville is suing the Ebenezer Fire Protection District and Fire Chief Nelson Prewitt alleging violations of the Missouri Constitution, state collective bargaining laws, and the First Amendment’s freedom of association clause. She was terminated on April 17, 2014 following her efforts to organize firefighters.

According to the complaint, a battalion chief, Wilson Brahm, was the first to reach out to the IAFF for help with organizing Ebenezer’s personnel back in 2012.

  • Battalion Chief Brahm … was subsequently shunned by the Chief for doing so. Upon information and belief, Battalion Chief Brahm resigned from his employment with the District due to the anti-union sentiment of Chief Nelson.
  • During this same time frame, Chief Nelson told Plaintiff, “I’m not going to let the union come into my fire department. I’ve spent all these years building this department, I’m not going to let the union come in here and take over.”
  • Chief Nelson… made the following derogatory comments regarding the Union:
    • Chief Nelson stated that the Union promoted drinking;
    • Chief Nelson stated that if the employees of the District were to join the Union, there would likely be pay cuts for the employees;
    • Chief Nelson’s comments regarding unions in general indicated his strong dislike and opposition to employee unions.
  • Upon the promotion of [an] unqualified individual to the position of Assistant Chief [Feb/Mar, 2014], Plaintiff began polling the District’s employees to determine the level of interest in joining the Union.
  • Upon information and belief, Chief Nelson [became] aware Plaintiff was attempting to discern the level of employee interest in joining the Union, and believed her to be a spokesperson for the Union.
  • On or about April 17, 2014, while Plaintiff was on duty, Chief Nelson handed her a letter from the Board of Directors and stated that the District was terminating her employment.
  • The letter did not provide any reasons for Plaintiff’s termination.
  • When Plaintiff asked Chief Nelson why she was being terminated, he told her he did not need to provide her with a reason, and refused to provide her with a reason.

Rounselville initially filed suit in state court in the 31st Judicial Circuit in Green County. Last week, attorneys for the Ebenezer FPD and Chief Prewitt removed the case to US District Court for the Western District of Missouri. (Note the complaint refers to Chief Prewitt as Chief Nelson is several places).

Here is a copy of the state court complaint: Rounsenville v Ebenezer

Here is the removal notice: Rounsenville Removal

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

Check Also

11th Circuit Rejects Cobb County Firefighter’s First Amendment Claims

The 11th Circuit has ruled that a firefighter who was disciplined for calling an elected official to complain about apparatus being out-of-service, was not engaging in protected speech. Cobb County firefighter Scott Millspaugh filed suit last year claiming his demotion was retaliation for his having called Commissioner Keli Gambrill.

First Circuit Upholds Discipline Against Firefighter Who Refused to be Photographed

The 1st Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that a Massachusetts fire chief did not discriminate against a firefighter by requiring him to pose in his Class A uniform for an identification photo. Thomas Swartz filed suit claiming he was wrongfully disciplined by the Bourne Fire Department in 2016, in violation of his religious rights.